Monday, July 27, 2009

Sunday in Andersonville with Jeff

Sunday was such a lovely day that we figured we should do something, walk somewhere, you know. Make a Sunday of it. We decided to stroll around Andersonville.

Andersonville, for those who aren’t familiar with Chicago’s North Side neighborhoods, is an area surrounding Clark Street, its business heart, from around 5000 N to 5700 N or so. The local Web site says it goes all the way north to Elmdale (which is 6000 N), but we used to live on Elmdale, and I would put that street very firmly in Edgewater. But enough geographical quibbling.

Since it was such a nice day, we decided to park in our old neighborhood, on Norwood, the next street north from our old Elmdale digs. The parking is more available on that street. At any rate, we parked and hoofed it south to Andersonville.

On the way, we passed through our old neighborhood, taking in the changes and drinking in nostalgia for the places that hadn’t changed. We passed by Senn High School, a massive building that we used to joke conjured up visions of Soviet municipal architecture. But somehow, it looked much more inviting than it used to. Did they plant more trees on the expansive grounds? I don’t know, but it didn’t look nearly as forbidding as it once did.

We hit Clark at Balmoral and proceeded south along the east side of the street. Our first stop was the Kopi Café, a neighborhood fixture. That strip of Clark has gone through many changes in the last few years—it retains its eclectic nature, but it now has a Starbucks and a few other coffee houses, and I worried that the Kopi Café might be overwhelmed by the competition. I shouldn’t have bitten my nails over it. It was just the same as ever, with great, fresh food and superlative coffee. They still have the little boutique in the back, and I bought a turquoise sundress—on sale!

From there, we strolled down the street, checking into dress shops (poor Jeff!) and antique shops, and a great ephemera store called Foursided where I bought a couple of cool retro tile coasters—on sale!

I don’t recall the name of the antique shop we poked around in--it was on the west side of the street—but it was a good old-fashioned junk shop with merchandise piled chock-a-block throughout the store. Jeff spied a Royal manual typewriter, the very model of which he had used for years in his youth. There was a VERY cool library card catalog that we both coveted, but since we were on foot… Ah well. There was also a skeery stuffed and mounted goat head, which could be had for a mere $48. But one must ask oneself, why on Earth would someone want to stuff and mount a goat head? It’s not as if it were some kind of wild game a hunter would be proud of bagging. Maybe it was a family pet? A superlative milk giver? A top-notch can nibbler? Who knows? Anyway, it had a yellow straw Easter bonnet perched on its head. Yeah.

On the way back to the car, we strolled down Berwyn, where one of the most baroque, eccentric graystones in the city is located. That place is so cool to look at. I wonder what it’s like inside. Although if this thread is to be taken seriously, maybe this book is better not judged by its cover.

We walked back toward our car along the shaded blocks of Glenwood, amidst the sun dappling down on the two-flats and the shouting of joyful sports fans filtering out of the open windows. Something amazing must have happened, but we forgot to check and see what it was by the time we returned home. We chuckled at a Statue of Liberty lawn sprinkler along our route—I wish we had one!

We turned west on Elmdale to take a turn by our old building—the first place we shared together in Chicago. It still looks nice—a modest but well-kept courtyard building. We proceeded north to Norwood and east to our car, passing one of my favorite houses along the way. In the midst of two-story, foursquare homes, this little brick bungalow always captured my heart on my runs around the neighborhood. One day as I ran past, I saw the family whose home it was having a picnic in the front yard on blanket, and a cuter little family you could never hope to find. I’m ashamed to say that my gut reaction to that was deep and nasty envy: how come THEY get to have such a cute little house??? No fair!! The negative and visceral nature of my response upset and shamed me. Then I came back to reality: what better folks to live in and love that home? And love it they (or whoever lives there now, if not them) clearly do—the place is neat as a pin and sports a lovely garden in the front and in the side yards. On Sunday, under bright blue skies, that made me smile.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Two Weekends in Wisconsin (Part 2)

Or, House on the Rock: premier weird-ass tourist attraction in the nation

or the creepiest and/or campiest house of horrors in the world?

Our second foray into Wisconsin was a weekend jaunt to Madison, where we did a lot of strolling, shopping, and pub-grub sampling. And where Jeff purchase a lovely new mandolin... but on the way we simply HAD to visit HOTR yet again. Now, you can read about and see photos of an earlier foray to this uber wonder cabinet in this blog's November 2007 archives (although I note that Photobucket has taken it upon themselves to deem some of the naked statuary depicted therein to violate their code of decency... go figure!), so I won't take you through yet another tour. This time I'd like to discuss this attraction in terms of the macabre: If you observe the details (and there are hundreds of thousands to observe), you will have to admit that it is a very spooky place.

First off, it's very dark throughout. I think in the house proper that this serves several purposes. It lends an air of rustic serenity.

For example, this seating area. The thick slabs of tempered glass set horizontally in the wall are one of my favorite design features in the place. I would love to have something like this in my home, honestly. And yet, if you take the same picture with a flash, the whole feel of it is lost. It's just garish (not that being garish isn't part and parcel of HOTR--oh, it very much is!--but not here in the house portion... well, not so much).

In addition, the house portion of the tour has a number of Tiffany and other stained glass lamps on display, and the general gloom of the living area highlights the jewel-like glow of these fixtures quite nicely.

And then, of course, there is the cobwebby state of the place in general--more light would require a much, much larger cleaning staff. Or a cleaning staff to begin with.

Once you have made your way through the original house and into the maw of the display buildings, the gloom only increases. This allows items that would be cute and colorful in more brightly lit display situation to appear incongruously sinister. Case in point:


Of course, the Streets of Yesteryear are "gaslit" and, of course, very dark. All the better to highlight the somber moving tableaux that beckon for your tokens throughout.

The Drunkard's Death

The Death of the Miser

I don't recall what this one is called--something to do with a magician, I think--but it's creepy, don't you agree?

Then there's the overwhelming Heritage of the Seas display with its huge sea monsters battling to the death in the past-twilight darkness, surrounded by ever-mounting catwalks.

But even so the nautical displays, which consist of ship models of all sorts and lots of scrimshaw and memorabilia, can't escape the subtle (or not so subtle) creepitude that permeates the place:

Nothing enhances a detailed scale model of a battleship better than a hovering sailor's torso!

This theme recurs throughout the attraction. Even in the nostalgic 40s-era cafe in the Spirit of Aviation exhibit, we encounter the disembodied:

What's with that guy peering out from the kitchen?

Then there are the creepy dolls just about EVERYWHERE.

Not to mention that the place has not one, but TWO whole carousels of dead-eyed, staring DOLLS.

Penny arcade attractions such as this one abound throughout:

Note the disembodied arm atop this treasure...

Don't get me wrong--I LOVE this aspect of the House on the Rock. I love it that in among the opulent (if, yes, dark)

the nostalgic

and the oddly fanciful

there are also things such this seemingly abandoned tzotchke-mobile

and this

and THIS

All of which makes a sign like this one

make me wonder: Do they actually realize where this guy's true genius lay?

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